I can’t drive 55: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of velocity
The song says “the eyes of Texas are upon you,” but right now the eyes of the rest of the nation are upon the Lone Star State.
That’s because in November, a 41-mile stretch of toll road between Austin and Seguin, Texas, (35 miles northeast of San Antonio) will open boasting an 85 mph speed limit — the fastest in the nation. This will put competitive pressure on lawmakers in the other states.
The higher speed limit on the toll road is touted as a “premium service” to lure paying customers. I wonder what sort of competitive edge toll roads will seek in the future? Roadside jumbotrons so your fellow travelers can enjoy the extended finger they were traveling too fast to appreciate?
CBS News reports that the speeds traveled on the toll road would be about the same as the wind accompanying a Category 1 hurricane. That could start a whole trend of bragging rights for Texas. (“Potholes that register on the Richter scale! Tsunami-strength public toilets! Yee-haw!”)
Opponents of the higher speed limit estimate that the abolishment of federal speed-limit controls in 1995 has led to a 3.2 percent increase in traffic fatalities nationwide. The other side says the easing of rules has lowered the death rate, eradicated malaria and ensured that there will never be a “Jersey Shore” reunion special.
Of course much of the push for higher speed limits comes from “autobahn envy.” Yes, the legendary German highways with their total absence of speed limits create a tantalizing goal for American motorists. (Let’s ignore the fact that ABC News says authorities recommend a speed no more than 81 mph on the autobahns, and that the average speed is 84.) Maybe we should ease into this, with an all-tuba radio station and “cook Wiener Schnitzel on your engine block” contests.
Texans (and “Texans at heart” scattered throughout the other states) are just seeking to take advantage of their inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of escape velocity.” The rest of us wouldn’t worry so much about our insurance premiums going up if these speed demons weren’t in such an all-fired hurry to meet God “in person” and thank him for those rights.
Some fans of the Texas toll road chafe at any sort of speed limits, venomously denouncing them as part of the “nanny state.” These folks will never be satisfied by anything that isn’t the “momma’s too distracted by her meth-addicted boyfriend’s needs to notice the baby in the garbage disposal” state.
Fans of ever-higher speed limits argue that traditional speeds are “boring.” Of course such people may never be satisfied. (“It’s really boring inside this pine box.”)
Before other states put the pedal to the metal, they should watch Texas for a few years, to assess the effect on accidents, fatalities and fuel consumption.
I think the vast majority of people using the toll road will be able to handle it, but the few exceptions can make a big impact. Look at it this way. After four years of the 2012 presidential campaign, pollsters still show two percent of voters “undecided.” Now just imagine those millions of people making a SPLIT-SECOND decision about tire blowouts or naughty kids in the back seat. Hijinks ensue.
Danny Tyree welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”